Grand by name, grand by nature. The Blue Mountains’ very own Grand Canyon is a special place. Unlike its more famous United States counterpart, you can’t simply drive to the edge of this hidden gem to take in its splendour.
You have to hike steeply down to it through temperate rainforest and past pagodas of rock. You have to don a wetsuit, helmet and harness. You have to abseil into it. And you have to swim, scramble and slide through it before you hike back out.
It’s an adventure that makes you truly appreciate that the magic of the Blue Mountains doesn’t lie in their heights, but in their depths. There is nothing else on earth like the slot canyons of the Blue Mountains and Grand Canyon is beloved as one of the best. To explore it is to quite literally explore another world.
The starting point for your four-hour adventure is the Neates Glen car park on Evans Lookout Road in Blackheath, about two hours’ drive west of the Sydney CBD. There the walk in begins. Grand Canyon is worth doing for the walk in and walk out alone. The National Parks and Wildlife Service has been painstakingly upgrading the track and the way its sandstone steps (there’s more than a thousand) meander through the moss-covered rocks and glades of towering sassafras, coachwood and tree ferns is quite literally landscape art at its finest.
Indeed, it is a track many thought could never be built because of its engineering challenges. But that never daunted Tomas Rodriguez, a man of remarkable energy, charm and vision who first arrived in Blackheath as the village’s railway station master in 1889. Thanks to his efforts, this remarkable track through the canyon carved by Greaves Creek was completed in 1906. To walk along it is to understand how the Blue Mountains gained World Heritage status in 2000 for the diversity of its plant life and the way its landscape tells a vivid story of the evolution of the Australian continent over hundreds of millions of years. Along the way you pass a rock overhang that was home to indigenous people for 4000 years.
Entry to the canyon is via a 20m overhanging abseil. It is suitable for beginners but the way it plunges into a black hole gives it an exciting edge. Now you find yourself in a cool canyon where shafts of light illuminate tight sandstone walls exquisitely carved and polished over tens of millions of years. The water is clear, the plants and mosses are a luminous green, the crayfish a vivid orange. There’s plenty of scrambling over slippery rocks and swims in the cold water of deep pools.
Everywhere there is shade and trickling water which makes these slot canyons time capsules for the Gondwana vegetation that dominated Australia 100 million years ago when it was a much cooler, moister place. This is the Australia where dinosaurs roamed.
At the end of the steep walk out, you are rewarded with one final gem, Evans Lookout, which provides one of the Blue Mountains’ most spectacular panoramas. From here can be seen the towering honey-coloured cliffs, basalt-capped mountains, thick green forests and ribbons of water that constitute the incredible majesty of the Grose Valley, a wilderness where white explorers first made a futile attempt to cross these mountains in small boats back in 1793.
Grand Canyon offers adventure, natural beauty, tranquillity and insights into the remarkable story of the Blue Mountains. Come do it with us!
Difficulty: Suitable for beginners, families or those wanting an experience with minimal abseiling.
Requirements: Moderate level of fitness, full mobility, good general health, comfortable in water and good hiking fitness.
Expectations: Adventurous activities are tough – you must expect the possibility of, at times, being uncomfortable, wet, cold, tired and scared.
Don’t book this tour without first discussing what the tour involves with all members of your group and checking they meet the fitness requirements.
Length: Approximately 4 hours
Included: All canyoning equipment, qualified canyoning guide, safety instruction including on abseiling techniques.
Meeting location: Neates Glen car park, 215 Evans Lookout Rd, Blackheath.